Theatre Review: More like Million Dollar OCTET

I had the privilege of attending the Opening Night performance of Million Dollar Quartet at Bucks County Playhouse as directed by Hunter Foster.  This musical from Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux is one for all to enjoy.  Yes, it’s another juke-box musical, but the story is compelling and informative.  Like a VH1 Behind the Music but with full songs!  Just like Mamma Mia, this show will have you dancing in the aisles by the end.

The story follows a day at Sun Records back in 1956 where Sam Phillips (James Ludwig) assembles his new and hot artists Carl Perkins (John Michael Presney), Jerry Lee Lewis (Brandyn Day), Johnny Cash (Sky Seals), and Elvis Presley (Ari McKay Wilford) who recently moved on to a new label but returns to coerce Phillips to move with him.

The cast of “Million Dollar Quartet” at Bucks County Playhouse. Photo by Joan Marcus
(L-R: John Michael Presney, James David Larson, Sky Seals, Brandyn Day, Ari McKay Wilford, Zach Cossman [on drums], Ryah Nixon, and James Ludwig.)
As Ludwig so eloquently leads the cast, it’s the “Million Dollar Quartet” that are clearly the beasts of this show. The artists not only envelop the nuances of these high profile recording artists, but they are also magically musical.  Presney, also the acclaimed music director, Seals, and Day have previously played these roles and it’s no wonder.  The skills it takes to master these icons is a full-time job.  Brandyn Day who plays the only living legend Jerry Lee Lewis is the charmer of the show.  What he can do on the keys is mesmerizing! He rolls confidence and bright-eyed up and comer into one show stealing role. Not to leave out two other amazing on-stage musicians, Zach Cossman and James David Larson, who play Fluke Holland and Jay Perkins respectively, are also no strangers to MDQ. Although it appears to be Wilford’s first at bat playing Elvis, his stunningly beautiful counterpart, Ryah Nixon as Dyanne is making her third go around in the role. Her version of “Fever” is electric.  This isn’t about a quartet, it’s about a mesmerizing OCTET of quality artists.

L-R: Brandyn Day as Jerry Lee Lewis, John Michael Presney as Carl Perkins, Ari McKay Wilford as Elvis Presley, and Sky Seals as Johnny Cast in “Million Dollar Quartet” at Bucks County Playhouse. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Foster, no stranger to Bucks County Playhouse, leads a magnitude of talented craftspeople to create a snapshot of Sun Records during a Christmassy December. Josh Smith’s scenic design was innovative and thoroughly utilized.  He not only designed the inside of a studio that was formerly a tire shop, but also beyond the 3 walls to the sound room and waiting area. It was intimate and large at the same time.  The fun had to be locating all the vintage materials for set dressing. Complimenting the stage design were costumes by Lauren T. Roark.  Except for what appeared to be over-sized clothing on Elvis, the costumes were relevant and aided to the 50s experience with great vision. The real winner here is Sound Design by Bart Fasbender.  It truly felt like going between real life and a live concert.  Changing from one mic to another and creating the ambiance so richly deserved. I will say, that if you aren’t already familiar with the killer set-list, you may have some trouble with the singers’ articulations as I did with some unfamiliar tunes.

I am grateful to have had parents who lived through this generation and had an appreciation for Rock ‘n Roll.  Elvis on the radio was a Sunday staple in the Scalies house. The audience was filled to the brim with all age ranges including my young 20 something guest who said, “I knew so many songs!” Having grown up as the child of Golden Oldies parents, there were some true gems of information that I had never heard prior.  Notably the history of “Blue Suede Shoes”.

Normally, it’s the vibe of an opening night audience that always leaps to their feet but this show is bound to have a Standing-O for its entire run! The entire finale sequence which includes all the greats, “Hound Dog”, “Ghostriders In the Sky”, “See You Later Alligator”, and “Whole Lotta Shakin” will make you want more, even after the other 20 hits throughout the evening are played!

Million Dollar Quartet has an extended run through September 15th.  Tickets can be purchased on their website.  Run time is approximately 2 hours with an intermission.


Review cross-posted with permission from Broadway World- Philadelphia


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